Our friends the earthworms

Tea plantations that use organic methods avoid all conventional pesticides and fungicides. They limit the spread of undesirable elements through the use of natural predators or repellents. And to enrich the soil, to make up for the nutrients that the tea plants take up, especially in intensive farming, they need to add a significant amount of organic matter. Organic compost can be bought in, or even better, produced on the plantation. One way of doing this is using vermiculture, a fairly common practice in India. Millions of earthworms are fed cattle manure mixed with chopped up banana leaves, for example. The worms produce excrement, and it is this excrement that is deposited around the base of each tea plant.

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Vermiculture: a very common practice

You don’t need panda excrement to launch into organic tea production. In my last post I mentioned these loveable mammals in the light of the highly-publicised start-up by a Chinese entrepreneur. But vermiculture, on the other hand, has been around for a long time and is used on many tea plantations.  So what is it? Quite simply, it involves raising earthworms by feeding them on a mixture of cow dung and chopped-up leaves (see photo). A few weeks later, the earthworm castings are collected and spread onto the soil. The use of this rich compost eliminates the need for fertilisers. In addition, the compost contains worm eggs, which then hatch into worms themselves. Once they have grown into adult worms, they will help aerate the soil and aid irrigation. As well as burrowing tunnels, the worms feed on leaves that have fallen to the ground, and speed up their decomposition.

So earthworms are a great asset, providing ongoing benefits for the soil.

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The author

François-Xavier Delmas is a passionate globetrotter. He’s been touring the world’s tea plantations for more than 20 years in search of the finest teas. As the founder of Le Palais des Thés, he believes that travelling is all about discovering world cultures. From Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Taiwan to the Golden Triangle, he invites you to follow his trips as well as share his experiences and emotions.

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